Wanted: U.S. Leadership
Wanted: U.S. Leadership
The UAE, Israel and a Test of Influence
The UAE, Israel and a Test of Influence
Op-Ed / Middle East & North Africa 4 minutes

Wanted: U.S. Leadership

With homicidal bombers continuing their gruesome campaign of terrorism against Israel and Israeli forces engaged in large-scale retaliatory attacks against Palestinians, now is the time for hard thought about how the United States can transform the cycle of violence into a stable peace.

No one can legitimately question Israel's right — indeed, its obligation — to defend itself from terrorist attacks. Yet military power alone cannot solve Israel's security problem. The only way to break the violent stalemate, which does so much to harm Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. interests, is through vigorous American leadership beyond the incremental approach that has been tried — and largely failed — before.

The United States should now prepare, and publicly present, a comprehensive peace proposal. It must combine strong security steps with a clear articulation of what a fair and final settlement should look like. Let's call it the Bush Plan.

This plan must differ from its predecessors in two ways — by setting out a clear understanding of the endgame, and by insisting that other countries share the burden of bringing about agreement.

A lasting cease-fire can only be achieved if the parties see a comprehensive political settlement laid out by the international community that, while hard to accept, meets the bottom-line concerns of each: security and acceptance for the Israelis and a viable state with a fair solution to the refugee problem for the Palestinians.

There is no denying that some Palestinian groups — Hamas and Islamic Jihad chief among them — will endeavor to continue their attacks, even with a peace plan in place. To neutralize them, we must create a context in which the Palestinian Authority and reasonable Palestinians have the incentive and ability to suppress them. This is best done by making it clear that legitimate Palestinian aspirations can realistically be achieved through a political process, while continued resort to violence and terror will render them unattainable. The offer of an interim arrangement, inherent in the Tenet and Mitchell plans, is no longer sufficient — and the Oslo Agreement has been overtaken by events.

Full implementation of the plan would be carried out in phases, contingent on both sides meeting their commitments. But the end game must be clear from the start.

The plan's building blocks — and the major concessions each side would need to make — are fairly well known, and have been laid out in a report prepared by the International Crisis Group:

  • Two states, Israel and Palestine, would live side-by-side.
  • Israel would withdraw to secure borders roughly along 1967 lines, with Palestinian sovereignty over Gaza and most of the West Bank. Israel would withdraw from most of its settlements, but a small area of the West Bank –—with the majority of Israeli settlers — would be annexed by Israel.
  • The Palestinians would be compensated through a land swap in which Israel would give the Palestinians an equivalent amount of territory from Israel proper.
  • A redefinition of Jerusalem would allow both Israel and Palestine to govern their own people in an open city. The Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would be the capital of Palestine. West Jerusalem and the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would be the capital of Israel. Palestine would govern the Temple Mount and Israel would govern the Western Wall. There would be internationally backed guarantees for these holy sites.
  • Palestine would be a non-militarized state.
  • A U.S.-led international force would help provide security to both states.
  • The refugee issue would be resolved in a way that addresses the Palestinians' deep sense of injustice without upsetting Israel's demographic balance. The solution would include financial compensation, the choice of resettlement in Palestine or third countries, or a return to that part of today's Israel swapped for territory on the West Bank.
  • The Palestinians would renounce any additional claims against Israel and, together with all — or roughly all — other Arab states, establish full diplomatic relations with Israel.

While there is no alternative to the United States playing a leading role — because of its unique leverage and its special relationship with Israel — other international actors must be more engaged in the process of moving to this final status agreement. Europe should play a productive role in providing political and security guarantees to Israel. They, as well as Arab states, will have to follow support for peace with sizeable financial commitments to the Palestinians.

Most importantly, key Arab states — Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia — must provide strong and public support for the plan and stop government-sanctioned anti-Semitic polemics. By doing so, they would send a message of acceptance and reassurance to the Israeli public while furnishing some political cover for Palestinian leaders.

This is the most realistic way to end the terrorist threat against Israel and free the Palestinians from occupation. Recent polls have shown that a majority of Israelis would support a peace agreement roughly along these lines. There is reason to believe that a majority of Palestinians would favor it as well. Even if the current leaders were to reject such a plan, it could nevertheless create a new political dynamic facilitating the emergence of more receptive leaderships eventually willing to embrace it.

There can be no question that this approach will require a major commitment of Bush administration effort and prestige. But we believe that the plan is the best way to safeguard key U.S. interests: a secure Israel at peace with its neighbors, and a Middle East freed from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the damage it does to U.S. interests and relationships.

Ultimately, the best way to ensure that Israel can be a secure, democratic Jewish state is to build a viable, stable, democratic, non-militarized Palestinian state willing to live in peace with Israel. The events of this spring have shown that the United States cannot afford to shrink from that challenge.


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Kenneth Adelman
Former Board Member
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